Randy Alcorn has written more than 40 books and taken Christian fiction to new levels. Having him adapt the movie
Courageous into novel form was a natural fit,
therefore, as Courageous takes Christian films to the next level. Here Randy talks about writing in general and
Courageous: The Novel.
Q: In adapting a book into a novel, what’s the author’s major challenge?
The challenge is to be 100-percent true to the movie and yet still deal with some things
not in the movie. Certain things in the film may have been hinted at or touched on, and
you expand on them. Some things in the book weren’t even hinted at.
Q: How does that work out in practice?
Readers will find that the novel is true to the movie but offers more. When we see a
movie version of a book we’ve read, we say, “I can’t believe they cut that character or
that scene!” But those cuts are necessary because a book always has too much material
for a two-hour movie. In this case, when the movie came first, I sort of reverse-engineered
it. It’s as if I pretended the movie was based on a novel, and I asked myself, “What would
that novel be like?”
Q: So Courageous: The Novel gives readers the movie and more?
Yes, it does. A screenplay has about 20,000 words. In novel form, it would be like a
long short story. A typical novel has 80,000 to 100,000 words. That means I have to add at
least four times the material to the movie story. I can add four or five times more depth to
the scene, four or five times more character development, four or five times more
Q: Does an example come to mind?
A good example is a character added to the novelization. He’s a very macho cop, a
non-believer, and his life is influenced by what he sees going on. It’s another point of
connection for readers, particularly non-believers.
Q: Did you expand on items in the movie as well?
Absolutely. It gives away nothing to say Courageous deals in part with the effects of
fatherless homes and with the gang culture. In the movie you see a gang but see few
details about gang life, and rightly so. Again, movie time is limited. In the novel I can go
much deeper into describing gang life. I portray its reality, the drug use, and its other
Q: Is the same true about the main characters?
The movie alludes to tension in Adam and Victoria Mitchell’s life—a raised eyebrow on
Victoria’s face, for instance, says she sees a downside to Adam’s parenting that he
completely misses. In a book I can more fully develop that tension, take the reader more
deeply into all the Mitchell family, and yet stay true to the story in the film.
Q: What type of preparation does adapting a book like this require?
I spent three days in Albany, Ga. [home of Sherwood Baptist Church, Sherwood
Pictures, and the
Courageous movie production], meeting extensively with people
and actors. I even rode around town with a local cop. I took photographs and saw the
film’s locations. So when I write a scene, I’ve been there. Authenticity is important. If it’s
true in the writer’s mind the reader picks that up.
Q: Do you ever find that Christian readers are suspicious of fiction?
We’re raised to think of non-fiction as truth. And if that’s so, then fiction must be false.
But most people understand that if I write a story and the reader knows it’s a story, that’s
not deception. Certainly Jesus’ parables were stories used to bring out truth. Even fiction
must have the ring of truth.
Q: On that line of thought, fiction—or a story—may connect with someone otherwise hard
I have an example of just that. I wrote a novel with a subplot concerning abortion,
and there’s a scene of the view of conception from heaven’s perspective. At that time,
the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, a woman strongly pro-choice, told me she
was going to read the book, the first of my books she had read. My heart sank. I thought
another book would be a better introduction, but the next time I saw her, she had stayed
up all night reading it. And she particularly loved the heavenly view of conception. I think
that work of fiction spoke to her far more effectively than my non-fiction Pro-Life Answers
to Pro-Choice Arguments would have.